Monday, November 23, 2015

Have you written your autobituary?

I went to a memorial service a couple of afternoons ago.  She was seventy.

The family, friends, and students who spoke described her as an unstoppable force with a bundle of energy.  They recalled poignant moments that they had shared with her.  One of the many thoughts that I had while listening to them, and watching the photo slideshow, was this: "too bad she is not here to listen to all these wonderful things."

Life is fragile.  It could be a heart attack.  Or a natural disaster. Or a senseless random shooting.  Whatever.  Gone in a minute.  Or maybe a year.  There is always that unpredictability.

A great-uncle of mine, who was as cantankerous as he was smart, knew well that he had made enough mistakes in his life and had caused problems for quite a few, even while being gregarious and magnanimous in many situations.  He commented more than once that after his death many would express relief that he was finally gone.  The remaining, he said, would ask, "oh, really, there was a guy like that?"

Recalling that uncle, I wondered if we all know within us what people might feel after they come to know that we died.  Maybe the seventy-year old professor also knew exactly how her colleagues, family, and students--and even acquaintances like me--will remember her?

If that is the case, it also means that we have plenty of control over how we would like to be remembered.  If I behave like an asshole, I know I will be remembered that I was an asshole.  I then have a choice--either I can continue to be an asshole, or I can change my behavior.

So, if people do not change their awful behaviors, then is it because they really, really want to be remembered that way, or is it that they lack that metacognition skills?  Do they care not about what will be said in their obituaries?

Especially in this selfie world, we need people to think about their autobituary.  It is important, now more than ever, that people understand that it is not our selfies that people will remember about us after we are gone.

How do you want to be remembered?


Ramesh said...

Oh - this is familiar territory. In one of those "self development" type of courses that B-School and HR types love, we were actually made to write our obituary and read it out. It wasn't a very useful exercise.

As we age, we all are concerned about our "legacies" . Even tyrants acutely had this itch. The biggest example was probably Genghis Khan - obsessed with it in the last years of his life. To some small measure or the other, everybody thinks of it. Even the Paris bombers were probably acutely aware of this - in their warped minds, they are leaving a huge legacy that would be admired by their fellow IS nutcases.

Mike Hoth said...

So you don't want to be remembered as an asshole? I've found that people who challenge the status quo tend to be reviled, so it may already be too late for us, especially considering the types of messages your colleagues send you!
That being said, I'm sending you a rough draft of my thesis in a few days. Try not to change my opinion of you when you respond, eh?

Sriram Khé said...

Ramesh, no exercise is useful unless the person treats that with sincerity. Guess who take that with all the sincerity? Yep, the ISIS terrorists, the guy who shot people dead in the college here in Oregon, and all those maniacs who have a clear sense of how they want to be remembered.
It is just bizarre that the worst of the worst seem to have a clear purpose, while the vast majority of humans simply plod along seemingly adrift in life.

But, what I cannot understand is this: most of us regular people know exactly what our faults are and we don't want to remembered for those. Yet, like my great-uncle, we choose not to change our behaviors. That is what puzzles me ... maybe that too is a part of what it means to be human?

Mike, stop spreading rumors about me being an inflexible instructor--I am not getting students in class, and the system wants to see numbers ;)
And, yes, with the feedback on your work, I shall continue to live up to your expectation! wait, or is it live down to your expectation? ;)

Anne in Salem said...

In my experience, a person's opinion of himself is often worse than that of his friends, family and coworkers. We tend to remember our mistakes, blown way out of proportion, rather than or at least in equal portion to our accomplishments and good features. Many people are also uncomfortable saying positive things about themselves, feeling like braggadocio rather than honesty. I think my autobituary would be long on the words "She tried . . . "

Sriram Khé said...

Even an autobituary that is about "she tried to ..." is nothing but a serious statement on what exactly she set out to accomplish ... whether we succeed or fail is really not always within our control, nor should we be preoccupied with that. Oh, wait, I am channeling a Hindu idea, from the Gita ;)

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